Sufi Saints and Dargahs: Part 1

NIZAMUDDIN

The first night in Delhi was stressful as the hotel we had chosen was depressing. It didn’t have much and lacked basic sanitation. We took it upon ourselves, during the beginning of the night, searching frantically for another option – we were restless and filled with exhaustion. When we finally found something that fit our preference we took it with desperation. In the beginning, the trip looked bright, but now, not so much. I kept my cool and looked forward to the next day as I finished my butter chicken. I don’t know if I could say the same for the rest of them – my mother, aunt, and brother – surely I was tired and so were the rest of them.

The next day my heart was restless. I came to India looking for a sense of adventure. More so, there is a sense of spirituality – from what I hear – that flows within Hindustan; therefore, it is no wonder our first stop was in the Nizamuddin slums. It was in a busy market place that our taxi driver dropped us off and he left without any hesitation. The streets were dizzying – there was so much congestion. We tried to push through crowds, but it was helpless without any direction. However, with the help of a young lady carrying a baby we were helped to our destination. With a smile she pointed us onwards through a small gate that led us to the Markaz (market place or center) and there after the Dargah (shrine).

Praying at the Khana Jammat Masjid by Zemar Ahadzada

Through the narrow and winding roads of the Markaz we walked past street vendors and shoe-watchers. They asked for our shoes and offered to watch over them for a small token of appreciation. Without hesitation we walked past them. I am sure you can sense our anxiety, but there was no way I was walking barefoot through the street-filled pollution. It was covered in its shadow – the place was depressing.  I entered a world of blue. It is hard to describe, but It was some place new. In hindsight, I felt I entered another time period. At the very end of the markaz, we were left with a tough decision, to part with our shoes or leave sufi saint’s presence. In the end, we walked without shoes on the white tiles of his Dargah.

We followed the devotees – their feet covered in mud – they walked gently on displaced white tiles. I was enveloped by a community that I barely knew and so I stayed quiet and listened. It was a community of different backgrounds and religions. I could hear Qawalli songs resonate as the audience swayed with the saint’s blessings. I walked towards the Jamaat Khana Masjid where I performed my afternoon prayer.  When I finished I headed back to the Dargah.  There were people flowing from each direction. They carried baskets of petals as offerings, they tied strands of yarn on arabesque-laced marble, they rubbed their hands on his Dargah and asked for blessings.

The Devotees by Zemar Ahadzada

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Looking for Blessings by Zemar Ahadzada

The whole situation brought me into a sense of calm-tension. I was troubled by an anxious meditation (process of thought) – I was lost in hesitation. I pondered with careful observation. It was the sufi saint who suggested to his successor, Nasiruddin:

 To learn to be still in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life and to be alive and animated while at rest (1)

Dervishes were lost in deep trances of emotion. Hindus, sikhs, and muslims filled the mausoleum, a sense of plurality established, and an aspect of spirituality resonated. I could sense the sufi saint’s message. Nizamudin Auliya, a member of the Chishti silsila (Chain or order). His exoteric practices asked for pluralism and tolerance. His sense of spirituality shaped India and provided it’s flavor to the modern day. It was after he passed away that many built their tombs to be buried close to him. Within the Dargah, Amir Khusro and Shah Jahan’s daughter lie next to him.

Homoyun's Tomb by Zemar Ahadzada

Homoyun’s Tomb by Zemar Ahadzada

Islamic architecture and culture are scattered throughout the city. The Sundry Nursery lies in the north, while the garden-tomb complex of Homoyun lies east. The tomb of Homoyun is decorated in wonderful gardens and canopies. It was the sufi saint who attracted many followers, including the Mughal rulers, to the city. His love and tolerance for the poor brought many to his Dargah and with it the assimilation of the most dense collection of mediaeval Islamic architecture. The vast wealth of culture now inspires the development of Nizamuddin’s future with the help of Agha Khan Trust of Culture.

The sufi saint’s selflessness and unasked for charity in Ghiyaspur (now Nizamuddin) immediately diverted to opening schools and hospitals for the poor (2). It seems as if his spirit still watches over the city. His message remains prevalent in the slums of Nizamuddin. Once in disrepair, but now being rebuilt anew! It is a wonderful sight – for eyes that are depressed and blue. It is enlightening!  There is no other word, but inspiring! There is improvement in waste management and education. There is still a lot of work, but the culture of the past is slowly perspiring.

Foot notes:

1.) Jaffer, Mehru (2012-10-15). The Book of Nizamuddin Aulia (Kindle Locations 1390-1391). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

2.)  Jaffer, Mehru (2012-10-15). The Book of Nizamuddin Aulia (Kindle Locations 1471-1472). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

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Delhi is for Lovers

India is an overwhelmingly populated country, which is immediately evident in the mass number of crowds that fill the streets and the traffic that flows in every direction. The country proves to be a contrast within itself; it displays life through the

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Mughalesque by Zemar Ahadzada

stories of the poor and the rich, the traditional and the modern, and the frightening and the harmonious. It is at times these
opposites that blend together that makes India, a masala of spices, that warm the palate. For many it may be overbearing and for others a wonderful medley.

I believe one way to experience India is to go through Delhi. It is an exciting city that has many things, which India offers. There is a spirituality emanating from the people and their religions; this energy flows from the masjids, mandirs, temples, and gurdwaras in every corner. The aroma of the different Indian foods fill the alley ways and streets of Delhi.  Delhi is a heritage city, full of UNESCO World Heritage monuments, which displays India’s past grandeur and hints at its future. The people are warm, caring, and helpful although they may not seem that way in all the chaos that is Delhi. There is so much in Delhi and it is a mixture of bad and good.

Not all of Delhi is pleasant. Pollution is suffocating. Water is contaminated and care needs to be taken when eating or drinking, especially vegetables and water. Trash is everywhere. Beggars come from every corner and ask for money. There are women who harass (verbally) tourist for money and curse with ill-omens for those who don’t cough up. There was a little kid, with a big smile and laughter behind his throat, who innocently asked me for “ek rupee!” There are other kids who look dazed and point towards their mouth, asking for a meal. There is chaos about the streets and it feels like no one can be trusted.

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A Delhi Sunset by Zemar Ahadzada

Nevertheless, it is from the dark and murky swamp where the lotus flower blossoms. It is the beauty, which arises from this chaos. As I mentioned before Delhi is for lovers and dreamers, it is full of the bad and the good. Within the parks and world heritage sites romantic lovers stroll about the gardens and fountains; their eyes fixed on one another. Right above them the Delhi sunset lowers its head covering the city in a haze of orange and red, a warmth that radiates in beauty, and is unique in nature. School children amuse themselves in the parks, which define history and future. The Rajpath Boulevard is filled with a peaceful energy, which emerges from the families,  lovers,  cricketers, and tourists. The flowers decorate Delhi and the birds sing their love songs for the city and it’s people. The cattle and dogs roam through the parks and streets. What can I say? It’s India.

Despite all the poverty, India is filled with hopes and dreams. This aspiration resonates through every street in Delhi where Billboards advertise projects to rebuild India and it’s infrastructure. There is a school for engineering or science next to every side-walk. The people work hard, through tough means and measures, to better their livelihood and country. They look towards the future and aspire to become a wealthy nation, restoring themselves back to their previous grandeur. It is a place for dreamers where great opportunities arise from each shop and dealer. They dance to the songs of the movies and they dream their Bollywood ending.

Delhi is for Lover

Delhi is For Lovers by Zemar Ahadzada

As I mentioned before, Delhi is for lovers….